WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate is ready to launch an emotion-charged debate on new gun restrictions, four months after the carnage at a Connecticut elementary school spurred President Barack Obama and Congress to address firearms violence.
In an opening showdown Thursday, a vote was planned on an attempt by conservatives to scuttle the Democratic bill before debate even started. There were no real doubts the conservatives would be defeated and lawmakers would turn to the legislation, which would expand background checks to more gun buyers, toughen penalties against illicit firearms sales and offer slightly more money for school security.
With that defeat imminent, conservatives were saying they would invoke a rule forcing the Senate to wait 30 hours before it could begin considering amendments.
"Let's get on the bill," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., as senators prepared for the vote. He said lawmakers had to try preventing criminals and the mentally ill from getting firearms, adding, "This bill won't stop every madman determined to take innocent lives. I know that, we all know that."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was supporting the conservative effort, saying the legislation would restrict the constitutionally protected rights of relatives and friends to sell firearms to each other.
"This bill is a clear overreach that will predominantly punish and harass our neighbors, friends, and family," McConnell said.
The roll call was coming a day after two leading conservatives, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., unveiled a less restrictive compromise on federal background checks, requiring them for gun shows and online transactions but exempting noncommercial, personal transactions.
That deal was expected to give gun control forces an initial burst of momentum as debate begins. But the National Rifle Association, along with many Republicans and some moderate Democrats, opposes fresh gun curbs as going too far, and the road to congressional approval of major restrictions remains rocky.